Katcha badlands

Published April 2, 2024

THE state’s bravado has been exposed for what it is. As violence, murder and abductions take over the riverine areas of upper Sindh and southern Punjab, which are becoming virtually inaccessible for the security apparatus, officialdom should review its simplistic approach towards an old banditry hotbed. Over the weekend, the Sindh government announced yet another “large-scale operation” to stamp out katcha gangs; the plan is to engage tribal chiefs to resolve disputes and “if this did not work, an operation would be launched to eliminate dacoits gangs”. While the Sindh chief minister claimed ignorance about the source of military-grade ammunition being wielded by the bandits, a conference held by the Awami Tehreek had stressed that riverine outlaws, nurtured by politicians, feudals and the police, procured arms on the black market and posed a grave threat to Sindh’s resources. These contradictions beg the question: do the authorities want to sustain the nexus between politics and crime?

Brute force alone, sans the larger idea of justice, cannot eradicate a problem created by deprivation. What is tearing these areas apart is the denial of due rights and services, the most crucial being the right to education. The population in the riverine belt has faced state abandonment for decades. Basic needs —health units, schools and roads — are absent in the region. The ground realities in Sindh and Punjab remain the same and resources allocated for ‘operations’ continue to be embezzled. Moreover, the traditional relation between bandits and police is also fraying as policemen are kidnapped as frequently as civilians. People have become immune to aggressive announcements of ‘operations’, and the existence of katcha no-go zones makes a mockery of the rule of law. A comprehensive, multipronged strategy — socioeconomic progress for the youth, compensation for victims and forces that are fully armed with modern equipment for a synchronised drive against the lawless elements in both provinces — would be a positive move.

Published in Dawn, April 2nd, 2024

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